CJ-Online Review ~ Latin of New Spain

Latin of New Spain. By Rose Williams. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishing, 2015. Pp. xx + 280. Paper, $19.00. ISBN 978-0-86516-833-6.


Reviewed by Tom Garvey, The Meadows School


Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of extant Latin derives from later than, and not infrequently from places geographically outside, the historical core of the Roman Empire, the study of Latin is far too often confined to works from authors on a narrow list of canonical classical authors. Williams seeks to combat this trend by making available a well-rounded selection of Latin written about, and even sometimes in, the territories comprising a more recent empire, namely New Spain.

Three genres are represented in the volume: Erasmian prose (with selections from Jesuit José de Acosta, Columbus, and Cortés); epic poetry (Jesuit Rafael Landívar and Francisco José Cabrera); and dialogue (Francisco Cervantes de Salazar). Supplementary materials include a map of Columbus’s voyages, 36 generally well-chosen illustrations, and five separate appendices. Appendix 1 is comprised of 15 pages of background notes on significant persons, places, and terms ranging from Aristotle to Lactantius to Lake Texcoco. Appendix 2 is a historical timeline including what the author considers benchmark dates and events in both Europe and the Americas germane to the texts included in the volume. Especially helpful, appendix 3 provides concise definitions of 24 common figures of speech encountered in the text’s selections. Appendix 4 (on rhythm and meter in poetry) expands, perhaps unnecessarily, beyond the scope of what is immediately useful to the actual selections in the text, which are exclusively dactylic hexameter. Appendix 5 is a master list of Latin neologisms coined by the primary authors. There are also a 34-page Latin-to-English glossary and a short bibliography.

Each set of selections is prefaced by a biography of its author, and each individual Latin selection preceded by an introductory paragraph designed to provide the context necessary to allow the reader to dive directly into the text. Separate sections with vocabulary, neologisms, grammar and word use questions, comprehension questions, and poetry questions (for the verse selections) follow the Latin text, though not every Latin selection contains all of these. The introductory paragraphs and the Latin text always begin on the left-side page, but there seems to be precious little uniformity of formatting beyond that. When the text is longer than would fit on a single page, it sometimes continues on the facing right-side page, but sometimes picks up again on the next left-side page, with vocabulary for the first page of text facing it on the right instead. For shorter selections, the vocabulary can even begin on the selfsame page as the Latin text itself, though apparently not in order to maximize efficient use of space. (There are countless large blank spots throughout the edition.)

Unfortunately, predicting where exactly it will be relative to the Latin text is the least problematic aspect of the vocabulary section. As is true also (and perhaps most especially) of the ‘Grammar and Word Use Questions,’ the vocabulary section evinces a less-than-clear/-unified picture of the entire edition’s target audience (supposedly an intermediate reader, if the introduction is to be trusted). The words chosen for glossing beside/below the text don’t seem to have been chosen by any set of established criteria, but rather at the whimsy of the author. Very often, individual vocabulary sections will simultaneously contain one or more words that no intermediate reader should need, while conversely omitting many others that they are unlikely to know (quam and ut are glossed, e.g., but not improbare meaning “disprove” [22-23]; pater but not egregius [36-37]; eo and indigenus, but not vehemens [45]; praeeo and vinculum, but not ostrum or crista [52-53]; factum and foveo, but not vexare meaning “inspire” or the “indeclinable” frugi [58-59]; etc.).

And while most words used in the Latin text can be found in the master glossary at the back, several words (such as advento [67] and partio [82]) cannot be found there either. And while not often, occasionally a vocabulary word will be placed in the section before or after the one it belongs in (as with fluito [91]). I also noticed that an archaic dat./abl. ending in quercubus [91] was misconstrued as a nominative singular (despite being contextually impossible) and granted its very own dictionary entry as a 2nd-declension noun. More generally frustrating, the system of dots used to separate stems from endings is often misleading, representing not actual stems, but simply the point in the word up to which all forms are spelled identically (as tru·x -cis [67]). Questionable also is the choice to gloss a single case of a word rather than its standard dictionary entry, as with the genitive uniuscuiusque [passim]. Several of these choices seem to overlook, if not outright prevent, opportunities for learning.

Perhaps the single biggest frustration this reviewer found was with the lack of grammatical help/notes. While still somewhat useful, the ‘Grammar and Word Use Questions’ section often feels like a “now find this,” hunt-and-peck scavenger hunt. Many questions are asked, obviously, but without the direct guidance/oversight of a teacher, many (if not most) intermediate students will feel lost without confirmation that their answers are or aren’t right. Of much more use would be (even very short) explanations of exactly what is happening syntactically. Not all intermediate students will be able to follow the leading questions to the logical conclusions to which the author seeks to guide them. And to be completely honest, sometimes there aren’t even leading questions when you want them. Several constructions (especially the ones idiosyncratic to later Latin) for which there is little-to-no specific help will be outside even the more advanced high-school student’s ken. In brief, the bar is simply set too high for the alleged target audience.

In the end, Latin of New Spain’s major contribution to the field-and this is not to be underestimated-will be the access it grants large audiences to various texts that would most likely otherwise remain inaccessible. While this reviewer would hesitate to recommend the edition to students wanting to hack through the texts on their own, any teacher willing to put together a not-insignificant “grammatical notes” section will find herein a solid skeleton upon which to flesh them out.

Posted with permission …

©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

CJ-Online Reviews Archive

CJ-Online Review ~ Latina Mythica II: Troia Capta

Latina Mythica II: Troia Capta. By Bonnie A. Catto. Mundelheim: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2015. Pp. xv + 241. Paperback, $25.32. ISBN: 978-0-865-16825-1.

Reviewed by Eric Andrew Cox, The University of Utah

Latina Mythica II is part two in a series of texts designed to accompany introductory study of Latin grammar. The text is similar to Anne Groton and James May’s 38 Latin Stories, Mary English’s Little Latin Reader, or Ritchie’s Fabulae Faciles. The volume is aimed at students who have completed grammatical study in toto. It was originally a more ambitious undertaking, however, in the author’s own words, “the power and beauty of Homer’s Iliad bewitched [her]”, and her focus became the Iliad (viii). Acquainting students, especially those reading Vergil’s Aeneid, with Homer’s plot and characters provided further incentive.

The mythological content covers a range of stories pertaining to and surrounding the Trojan War. It begins with two pre-Iliadic chapters highlighted by Odysseus’ and Achilles’ arrival at Troy and the abandonment of Philoctetes. Following the main body of the text, which covers the more memorable episodes of Homer’s Iliad, are two post-Iliadic chapters that include the theft of the Palladium, Philoctetes’ return, the deaths of Achilles, Ajax, and Paris, and more. Finally, the text concludes with an English epilogue summarizing the fate of the Trojan women and the nostoi of the Greek heroes.

Each chapter is organized according to the following schema: an introduction with sources, several sections of Latin text accompanied by facing vocabulary, grammar and comprehension questions, discussion questions, and a section on cultural influences. Introductions are concise, yet thorough, and present students with both traditional and more obscure sources (i.e., Apollodorus, Hyginus). Vocabulary sections avoid coddling students with words that should already be committed to memory. Familiarity with basic vocabulary (particularly that of Latin for the New Millennium I-II) is assumed; only extraneous words are listed, and even these are graded, disappearing after two uses, only to return after a period of dormancy. All terms appearing twice are listed in the back of the book. Notes on more complex grammatical constructions, also graded, are embedded in the Vocabulary.

Grammar and Comprehension Questions succeed the vocabulary. Grammar questions reference bold words in the Latin text and review a wide variety of grammar, while the comprehension questions help gauge student understanding of the narrative. Each Latin passage incorporates a range of grammar that is appropriately challenging. Most are short enough to be completed in one or two class periods, and passages can be omitted without losing the sense of the story. The Discussion Questions allow teachers to build upon the content with historical, cultural, and literary information. Lastly, the Cultural Influences section at the end of each chapter offers examples from modern art and literature, but is admittedly limited in scope due to the proliferation of examples on the internet. All this is ornamented with 28 illustrations.

Troia Mythica clearly achieves its goal of exercising its readers’ grammar and informing them of the background to the Trojan War, and so the following critique is mostly subjective. But first a few objective points. The text contains good clear Latin; nonetheless, a few errors occur. The perfect subjunctive reveneris is mistakenly listed in the vocabulary as pluperfect (24), and oppugnavisset occurs where the Latin would prefer the present subjunctive oppugnet (Haec imago perfectam victoriam contra Troiam promisit si ipso die rex urbem opugnavisset, 37). Likewise, while illustrations are content-appropriate, the illustration for the story of Philoctetes (13) is curiously placed under the story of Palamedes (19).

Sometimes the wording of questions is awkward or in error: “How before did Apollo deceive Achilles?” (197); What does Achilles order Apollo do to?” (198); “Was it just the bow of Hercules that Philoctetes brought that killed Achilles [sic Paris]?” (214). Finally, inconsistencies with names arise. The sources refer to Quintus of Smyrna five times (188-206), but shifts to Quintus Smyrnaeus twice (210 and 214). Similarly, Ulixes occurs in place of Ulysses once in the discussion questions (195).

The discussion questions are oftentimes quite good. For example, in the story of Palamedes’ betrayal, the author asks if his letter from Priam indicates a language barrier (19). This is a nice gateway to discussing Homer’s portrayal of their shared tongue, religion, and cultural values and could easily delve deeper into more complex topics such as Homer’s epic world vs. Bronze Age reality. Yet, questions from the same passage such as, “What does Ulysses do that seems to indicate that he is insane?” and “What was odd about Ulysses’ method of plowing?” will likely elicit overlapped responses. Of course, the very oddity of Odysseus’ yoking suggests his madness.

Sometimes opportunities for questions are overlooked. For instance, the statement that all the Greeks highly valued Odysseus because of his wisdom and planning (…omnes Graeci ob sapientiam consiliumque eum magni aestimaverunt, 4) is a perfect opportunity to ask students to explain the difference between sapientiam and consilium, especially since many vocabularies offer “wisdom” as a translation for both. Doubtlessly, some students will simply translate “wisdom and wisdom” out of confusion.

Most grammatical questions are well formulated and thoughtful; however, some need sharpening to avoid ambiguity. This problem muddles the following questions: “What type of adjective is pulcherrima?” (14); “What case and form is nobilissime?” (28); “What case is sacerdotis sui and on what does it depend?” (26); “What verb is visa est?” (30); “What case is ipso die and what does it indicate?” (36). In such instances, the information elicited is unclear, but this is easily preempted by skirting generalities such as “type” or “form,” and by avoiding vague phrases like, “on what does it depend,” or “what does it indicate.” Surely an instructor can clarify, but students already confronting a challenging language may quickly become frustrated.

In all, Latina Mythica II: Troia Capta is an excellent text for concluding a second semester introductory course or for beginning second year review. Its mythological content will enliven the classroom and maintain reader interest, and its price is feasible for both starving students and teachers on a shoestring budget.

Posted with permission …

©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

CJ-Online Reviews Archive

Also Seen: Latin Grammars at the Glasgow Incunabula Project

Tip o’ the pileus to Robert MacLean on Twitter for mentioning this update … here’s the intro paragraph as a bit of a tease:

This latest batch of incunabula includes a bound volume containing six independent Latin grammatical texts. These texts are primarily associated with Johannes de Garlandia, a 12th century grammarian whose most famous work, the Dictionarius has been described by one 20th century scholar as ‘in one sense, the first of all dictionaries.’ The works in this volume seem intended for schoolboys with a rudimentary understanding of Latin who were in need of honing more complex grammatical ideas. De Garlandia commands them in his essay Synonyma ‘to come and listen to him for he will teach them.’

Links to some more potentially interesting incunabula follows the main post too!

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Papal Tweetery ~ March 3, 2012